Lack of Hope in America: The High Costs of Being Poor in a Rich Land

Yves here. While this article gives a very good high-level summary about how inequality is becoming institutionalized in American and the costs to those who see themselves as having lost the most, I wonder about the emphasis on hope as a remedy. Perhaps this is such a strong cultural bias in the US that there’s no escaping it as a motivator for most people. But I take to heart the interpretation of the Pandora’s Box myth that Hope being at the bottom of the box of all the evils she let loose was not a show of mercy by the gods, but simply a torment in disguise.

It’s not hard to imagine that the psychological damage done by loss of mobility and the relative status decline of lower-middle class individuals, particularly in rural areas, is made worse by media. Not only does TV show how the better-off half lives, TV and the movies regularly depict characters living in better circumstances than the incomes that go with their jobs would allow. One reason is that it’s almost impossible to shoot a scene in anything smaller than a pretty big room, so Americans (outside those meant to be upper class) in movies and TV look better housed than they generally would be in their real lives. And of course they all have great teeth.

By Carol Graham, Leo Pasvolsky Senior at the Brookings Institution and College Park Professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. Originally published at VoxEU

Despite the long-held belief that high levels of inequality in the US signal future opportunity, a number of studies suggest that this is no longer the reality. This column examines trends in inequality from the perspective of well-being and focuses on non-economic aspects of welfare, including hope. The results reveal stark differences across people, races, and places in the US. Poor minorities – and blacks in particular – are much more hopeful than poor whites, while urban places are more hopeful than are rural ones, as are places with higher levels of diversity.

The US is as divided as it has ever been. The simplest marker – which has been a topic of discussion among economists for many years – is the stark increase in inequality of both income and opportunity. A number of studies provide compelling evidence that despite the long-held belief that high levels of inequality in the US signal future opportunity, that is no longer the reality. Chetty et. al. (2017) find that the percentage of children who are able to rise above the income levels of their parents has fallen from 90% for cohorts born in 1940 to 50% for those born in 1980. Yet technical discussions among economists based on metrics such as Gini coefficients do not seem to resonate in public debates.

Divisions in the US go well beyond the income arena, and in ways that are particularly worrisome. In a new book, I document trends in inequality from the perspective of well-being, starting with standard metrics but also exploring how these relate to non-economic aspects of welfare, such as happiness, stress, anger, and, most importantly, hope (Graham 2017).

Hope is an important channel driving people’s willingness to invest in the future. My early research on well-being work highlights its particular importance for people with less means, for whom making such investments requires a greater sacrifice of current consumption than it does for the rich (Graham et al. 2004). In addition to widening gaps in opportunity, the prosperity gap in the US has led to rising inequality in beliefs, hopes, and aspirations, with those who are left behind economically the least hopeful and the least likely to invest in their futures.

A Tale of Two Americas

There are, indeed, two Americas. Those at the top of the income distribution (including the top of the middle class) increasingly lead separate lives, with barriers to reaching the upper class being very real, if not explicit (Reeves 2017). Those at the top have high levels of hope for the future and make investments in themselves and in their children’s health, education, and knowledge more generally. Those at the bottom have much lower levels of hope and they tend to live day by day, consumed with daily struggles, high levels of stress, and poor health.

There are many markers of the differences across these two Americas, ranging from education levels and job quality to marriage and incarceration rates to life expectancy. Indeed, the starkest evidence of this lack of faith in the future is the marked increase in premature deaths – driven largely but not only by an increase in preventable deaths (such as via suicide and drug over-dose) among middle-aged uneducated whites, as described by Case and Deaton (2017).

There are even differences in the words that these two Americas use. Common words in wealthy America reflect investments in health, knowledge acquisition, and the future: iPads and Baby Bjorns, foam rollers and baby joggers, cameras, and exotic travel destinations such as Machu Picchu. The words that are common in poor America – such as hell, stress, diabetes, guns, video games, and fad diets – reflect short-time horizons, struggles, and lack of hope (Leonhardt 2015).

Based on detailed Gallup data, we find stark differences across people, races, and places in the US. Remarkably, poor minorities – and blacks in particular – are much more hopeful than poor whites. Poor blacks are three times as likely to be a point higher on the ten-point optimism scale than are poor whites, while Hispanics are about one and a half times more likely than poor whites. Poor blacks are also half as likely to experience stress – a significant marker of ill-being – on a daily basis as are poor whites, while poor Hispanics are about two-thirds as likely.

Figure 1 Odds of being on a higher level of optimism, by race group (relative to white), within each income group

Figure 2 Odds of experiencing stress, by race group (relative to white), within each income group

These differences across race have multiple explanations. One important one is that, despite substantial obstacles, minorities have been gradually narrowing the gaps with whites, at least in terms of education and life expectancy gaps. Minorities are also more likely to compare themselves with parents who were worse off than they are, while blue-collar whites are more likely to compare themselves with parents who were better off – a trend that has been increasing over the past decade, as found by Cherlin (2016). By 2016, 26% of non-Hispanic whites reported being worse off than their parents, compared to only 16% and 14% of blacks and Hispanics, respectively. Cherlin also finds that those individuals who report being worse off than their parents are less happy with their lives and less likely to trust others.

Psychological research points to higher levels of resilience among minorities compared to whites. Assari et al. (2016) find that blacks and Hispanics are much less likely to report depression and/or commit suicide in the face of negative shocks than are whites. Our research suggests that there may be an ageing effect. While younger blacks, particularly males, are more likely to be angry than their white counterparts (even though they are still more hopeful), older blacks are significantly less likely to be angry than whites.

More generally, urban places are more hopeful than are rural ones, as are places with higher levels of diversity. In recent research, Sergio Pinto and I find that the same places have healthier behaviours – such as more people who exercise and less who smoke (Graham and Pinto 2017). In contrast, we also find that the places with more respondents who lack hope for the future tend to have higher levels of premature mortality driven by ‘deaths of despair’, i.e. those driven by suicide and/or drug and alcohol addiction.

These differences are reflected across a range of inter-related trends, which again are more prevalent among uneducated whites. Reported pain, which is a gateway to both opioid addiction and suicide, is higher among whites than among blacks, and highest among rural whites. Reliance on disability insurance links to reported pain due to the injuries associated with many blue-collar jobs. Rates have increased in the past decades from just under 3% of the working age population to almost 5% for men. Premature mortality has increased dramatically for uneducated whites – particularly those in rural areas and small towns – compared to their black and Hispanic counterparts. A recent study finds that civic participation of all kinds is also much lower in rural areas, areas that also tend to have far less access to broadband internet (Kawashi-Ginsberg and Sullivan 2017). These rural–urban trends map remarkably closely, meanwhile, with political divisions, voting patterns, and even alternative sources of news in the US.

The figures below depict rough geographic regularities – via state averages – in the distribution of stress, reported pain, reliance on disability insurance, and premature mortality for poor white respondents (the cohort that is demonstrating the starkest signs of despair). Our econometric analysis discussed above identifies the specific role that lack of hope plays in this vicious circle.

Figure 3 Average stress incidence (%) by state, for poor whites (2015-15 average)

Figure 4 Average pain incidence (%) by state, for poor whites (2015-15 average)

Figure 5 DI prevalence by state (% per adults aged 20+, 2010−15 average)

Figure 6 Mortality rate (all-cause) by state, for whites aged 45−54 years old (per 100,000 people, 2010−2015 average

What Can Be Done to Reduce Despair?

Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet for solving widespread desperation and its negative manifestations. It is even more difficult to conceive of solutions in a political cycle that hinges on daily crises and scandals. Not surprisingly, the proposals coming out of the current administration are simply to make across-the-board cuts in social programmes – far from the creative thinking required to make these programmes part of the solution. In the short run, solutions will likely be piecemeal and bottom-up, emanating from communities themselves with support from local level political actors and organisations.

There are, of course, major policy changes that could help over the longer run. Firstly, while deaths of despair are exactly as described, the all too readily available supply of opioids and other addictive drugs is an issue that policy can productively address. Another key policy area, which I highlight in the book, is the need to re-think safety net policies in the US. Food stamps, for example, tend to stigmatise recipients, and the programmes that provide cash assistance for the non-working poor have been shrinking, particularly in Republican states. Given that 15% of prime-age males are out of the labour force – and this is projected to grow to 25% by mid-century – another approach is clearly necessary.

The technological displacement of low-skilled jobs is here to stay – and is an important issue for many countries, well beyond the US. Addressing this issue will require longer-term changes, such as education and incentives that provide the young in economic desserts the tools to move to where the new jobs are. Older displaced/out-of-the-labour-force workers pose more of a challenge. Well-being research offers some lessons, such as the benefits of volunteering, participating in community activities, and other ways of avoiding the isolation and despair that accompanies unemployment.

Finally, restoring hope is not impossible, and as a start entails reaching out to those in distress with positive strategies for the future. Experimental research, such as that by Hall and Shafir (2014) and Haushofer and Fehr (2014), shows that simple interventions that introduce a source of hope to the poor and vulnerable can alter behaviour and lead to better future outcomes. The alternative is for desperation to yield even more support for politicians fostering division, exclusion, and an impossible return to the past. The associated turmoil, as recent elections and events in both the US and the UK demonstrate, is counter-productive for all, and particularly so for the most vulnerable.

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  1. allan

    The technological displacement of low-skilled jobs is here to stay – and is an important issue for many countries, well beyond the US. Addressing this issue will require longer-term changes, such as education and incentives that provide the young in economic desserts the tools to move to where the new jobs are.

    Education, incentives, tools, new jobs.
    That could be cut and pasted from a DNC press release. Coding camps for all!

    It seems that even the Even the Liberal Brookings still doesn’t get how bad things are,
    or how much fundamental restructuring of the economy and society would be needed
    to reverse things.

    1. Livius Drusus

      The answers are never things like reforming labor law to make it easier to unionize, renegotiating trade agreements to make them fairer to workers, fixing the trade deficit, true universal health care and perhaps the most obvious answer: have the government hire people directly!

      No, it is always learn to code and move to New York or San Francisco. It is getting harder and harder to deny that Thomas Frank was right when he said that modern liberalism is now centered on upper middle-class professionals and their theory of technocratic meritocracy.
      These people can’t imagine any solutions that don’t comport with their own experiences.

      The credentialed professionals earned their wealth and status through schooling and moving to one of the large metro areas where professional jobs are plentiful. They assume that everyone must follow the same path that they did because they are convinced that they have merit and others do not. They can’t imagine that in some cases staying in your dying town where you at least have family networks might be a more rational option than dropping everything for a chance to “make it” in an alien city with a high cost of living. Why do the “go where the jobs are” narratives always seem to ignore the fact that large cities are becoming so expensive that the lower-paid workers who service the “knowledge workers” at Google and Facebook can’t even afford to live there anymore? I guess the reason is that it would reveal the social hourglass nature of the supposedly wonderful liberal big cities.

      Also, I want to call attention to the obsessive focus on men not working. Dean Baker has critiqued this meme on his blog.

      Americans don’t need hope they need good policy. Too much contemporary political and economic analysis focuses on psychological factors. Yes, the misery and hopelessness that comes from unemployment and underemployment are real and likely fuel various social pathologies but there is nothing new or groundbreaking here.

      We know from the Great Depression and the aftermath of the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe that economic problems can cause social problems. The key is to find ways to fix these problems but unfortunately the only answers we seem to get are the same ones that we have been hearing for the last 30 years.

      1. RepubAnon

        I’d suggest that real hope, as opposed to false hope, is the answer. Real hope would result from good policies, false hope is engendered by suggesting that people do things such as learning to code (unless they have an aptitude for it). Even then, telling people that uprooting oneself and moving to a strange city to learn a new skill is hardly a realistic solution. One would need to rebuild one’s life (and that of one’s family), and still may not find a job at the end of that effort. These types of solutions increase despair, they don’t kindle hope.

        What really need to happen is a big infrastructure project aimed at getting high-speed Internet connections and decent roads to the rural areas. These would make it possible for businesses to relocate satellite offices to low-cost areas, bringing jobs. People could then either train for those jobs, or get jobs in support sectors such as supermarkets, consumer stores, etc. This would offer a realistic possibility of better times, which would help people regain real hope.

      2. schultzzz

        Livius, I agree with your solutions to the problem in general.

        But I keep seeing this talking point on the left: that ‘go where the jobs are’ is some evil heartless neolib thing.

        Yeah, it’s heartless!

        But, what do YOU do if you’re in charge of Detroit or Baltimore, or one of these other cities where MOST citizens have moved out of certain blocks and bears and stuff are already moving in?

        I mean, saying “stay put at all costs because freedom!” means asking the most in-debt cities to keep a big citywide elec/water/sewer infrastructure in place just so that the one or two lived-in homes on certain blocks can chill. Does that make sense, given our lack of resources to begin with?

        I’m not poking fun at your empathy with the poor.

        I’m seriously asking how you reconcile your empathy with your environmentalism, because I’ve never seen this particular trade-off addressed by anyone in the ‘stay put at all costs because freedom!’ camp.

        I’m asking because I myself have no idea how to split the trade-off.

    2. tegnost

      I’m going to have to pile on here as well, flagging volunteerism as an elite perspective that works (possibly) only when all your needs are met and you need something to get you out of the house to connect with people, while telling a poor person they should work for free might not answer any need they have and indeed likely make them feel taken advantage of. Along the same lines a poor artist friend has fielded the suggestion that she donate her artwork to charity for exposure, as the spouse of a wealthy so californian has done, then her work can be sold to support the charity instead of herself, but exposure! (We’ll leave aside that the techies just want to take a picture with their iphone 7 and they’ll print it out for free)

      1. jrs

        while being around people is often good advice, being around people does not fix the despair of unemployment (really a separate issue than poverty – as one can be poor and employed, unemployed and not poor although that situation clearly can not last).

        The despair of unemployment is fear of NOT HAVING AN INCOME period (the present reality and the fear that one won’t get a job in the future either), and being around others does not fix that, whether or not one is around fellow unemployed people or people with jobs. Because you can get company from others but no relief from the raw fear about whether one will have an income to pay bills or not, because others can not help one with this. They can merely provide company and emotional support, but that doesn’t pay the bills.

        Sure if for the older people social security age was lowered so they could now collect a check and then one told them to volunteer with thier free time, maybe they’d be good, but only if that need for an income is met first.

      2. John Wright

        Volunteerism also has the stigma that a volunteer is of a lower class because they are working for free.

        I remember my late mother who was volunteering in her 80’s at a charity.

        This charity also had paid employees.

        She had volunteered for a few months when one of the paid staffers asked her to get coffee for the staffer.

        My mother got the coffee for her.

        Then my mother quit..

        She said the the paid workers did not respect the volunteers’ time because the volunteers were willing to work for free..

          1. flora

            adding: I know of a local worthy charity that got ripped off for 10’s of thousands of dollars by a paid worker. No one checked the books because, of course, the paid worker must have been reliable and serious and trust worthy. They were being paid! after all. The IRS showing up on the doorstep because of failure to report and pay taxes finally got the attention of the self-regarding and swanning board that all was not well. Several unpaid volunteers had tried to get the board’s attention for a couple of years, to no avail.

              1. ambrit

                One of the “better” “faith based” thrift store “chains” around here uses non violent “crooks” who have been sentenced to serious “community service ” time in lieu of jail time, to staff their outlets. These people are paid minimum wage, if paid at all, for their service. A big portion of this group consists of drug court “offenders.” Some I have spoken to tell of convictions for simple assault, as in a domestic abuse case, leaving the scene of an automobile accident, and simple possession of cannabis. Many of these people work full time at the thrift, while those with “regular” jobs work part time at one or the other during the “sentence” time.

      3. Arizona Slim

        On Facebook, there is a group for people like your artist friend. It’s called Stop Working for Free and it’s growing by leaps and bounds.

    3. Marc

      I really don’t see the comment as political. It’s pretty clear that many low skill jobs are go or pay so little that they are not viable for anyone to live on.
      If we are not going to have a perpetual Dole class then we need to do something as a society to provide the training to help people be productive but there is no requirement that the training needs to come from government oversight (although that is the most common proposal). Businesses, trade organizations, altruistic non-profits, & local communities have all done some of these tasks in the past. If they don’t want to have an overbearing federal government putting out mandates they need to step up & start solving the problems before it becomes legislated or before we get the riots & uprising from an underclass that wants to tear society apart because it’s the only way they think they can improve thing for them.

  2. Tomonthebeach

    Alas, Washington keeps its head in the sand by relying on unrealistic measures of the cost of living. They do a poor job of correcting for regional differences. As an example, as Dean Baker and others have pointed out, rents for a 1-bedroom apartment in San Francisco exceed mortgage payments on a mansion in Omaha.

    As long as Capitol Hill is content to go with the flow, the flow will continue downhill.

  3. MoiAussie

    I’m close to disgusted by this analysis. It shows either a complete lack of insight into root causes, or a stubborn unwillingness to speak about them. No mention of globalisation, capitalism, financial crises, housing foreclosures, predatory corporations, or corruption of law and justice. Blather about different language used in the two Americas may score points at a sociolinguistics conference, but is otherwise unilluminating. All the framing in terms of people’s “willingness to invest in the future” is bogus – it should be about “ability to create futures for themselves”. Only the rich have the luxury of investing, for everyone else it’s the struggle to stay afloat and perhaps improve their circumstances.

    It’s big on “something needs to change” and “another approach is needed”, but offers no new ideas. It seems entirely focused on mitigating the symptoms, such as despair and suicide, rather than identifying and addressing the causes. And it doesn’t once question the idea that America is a rich land, as the title would have it, as opposed to a land where the many are ruthlessly and increasingly exploited by the few, a land where public assets are falling apart or being stolen for a song (post offices, anyone?). And the author seems surprised that communities that have long been oppressed and deprived are more resilient than those that have had recent opportunities to forget the lessons of the struggle to survive and prosper.

    In the end it reads as just another tacky book promotion exercise with nothing more to offer.

    1. Terry Flynn

      Agreed. Former colleague get all enthused about interventions that are supposed to help the poor to refocus on long-term outcomes (so as to reduce smoking/opioid use/whatever) / invest in the future, blah blah blah. As you say, the despair/lack of hope people have has to be addressed by concrete changes to the system that gives them either a secure job they value, (as well as both decent monetary compensation and other non-monetary support – carers immediately come to mind) or engages them in an activity that gives value to their lives, and ideally society too, if they’re too ill to go back into full-time employment. “Concerns about the future” constitute around 20% of quality of life directly (and indirectly have huge effects in terms of magnifying the malign effects of financial/monetary shocks to a person’s life).

      Welcome to fear….It’s hope, turned inside out.” – Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

      1. Harry

        Ah yes. They’re poor because they are stupid. I am always surprised we don’t explain the rich as “they’re rich because they are ruthless and unprincipled”.

        1. MoiAussie

          Blunt people do say that, and so should all. Balzac said much the same 200 years ago, and christ said something to that effect about 2000 years ago.
          To be fair, “they’re rich because they are ruthless and unprincipled, or were born rich, or both”.

    2. bvian

      The system has always been rigged, maybe it’s worse now than 50 years ago, maybe it’s better than 100 years ago. Regardless, what changed is a business of talk radio, fox news and grievance politics that profits off of gloom and doom and specifically targets white people and rural folk. If you spend your days listening to people tell you how awful everything is, you are going to lose hope.

      1. Anon

        Seems to me that people can recognize a hopeless economic situation (their own) without talk radio, Fox, or politics.

        1. ambrit

          The problem is that at the bottom of the “food chain,” the opinions of the distressed are discounted as “deplorable.” Much of the “talk radio” etc. are symptoms of denial of the trend in our societies socio-economic development.
          “Panem et circensus.” As I mentioned elsewhere, Circuses alone won’t do the job. With the removal of the old “safety net,” the Elites are vitiating the system that protected them against their own worst impulses. What could possibly go wrong?

  4. Jane

    It isn’t hope that is lacking; I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t hope for a better life. What has been lost is the belief that that hope will ever be realized. People no longer believe the life they would like is achievable. When there is nothing to look forward to, nothing to strive for, hope sinks and despair rises. That’s why safety nets are so important, they prevent hope from being extinguished and remind people there is a way forward, a way up.

    Ironically, the optimism shown by minorities may be an illusion; the result of closing the gap with a sinking white working class rather than of a real rise in their economic
    state. The life they hope to achieve by catching up with the white working class is no longer the life they were told they would find.

    1. Clive

      It (the loss of hope) gets to a lot of us — in different ways. I’m loathed to agree with Yves’ assessment that the loss of hope is a — what’s the right word? — necessity?

      But I think Yves is right. Misplaced hope is a seductive toxin. It keeps one from making a realistic assessment of a situation and the most likely range of outcomes when analysed objectively. If you keep, irrationally, hoping for the best, you may well preclude yourself from taking more drastic but necessary steps.

      The main way the lack of hope has affected me is that I cannot now happily read anything in modern literary fiction. Once I started noticing a phenomena — which is a variation on TV houses having unreasonably large rooms or characters having a standard of living not commensurate with their jobs — whereby the narrative of a novel is established usually in the first chapter or so, but the author has to conjure up some outrageously contrived explanation and scenarios as to how the central characters have the time and resources to participate in whatever story arc they are about to be launched upon.

      Is the novel some sort of adventure? The lead characters have to be given a get-out for why they aren’t tied to a job which occupies every waking hour either by working long hours or commuting (or both). Is it an urban fantasy genre? Where do the participants get their money from? If they work, what do they do which gives them the energy to pursue the plot line?

      If you try to read modern fiction, watch for the sudden, hamfisted, attempts to finesse these issues. I’ve got cynical and jaundiced at the endless parade of antiques shop owners who can conveniently close up early when a story development needs to take place. The freelance detectives/office workers/journalists who can find themselves mysteriously between assignments but not need to look for work. The poor but honest Peggy Sues who inherit a bit of money from the convenient death of a relative.

      Whenever I try to start a new modern fiction book, I brace myself for the inevitable credulity-stretching few paragraphs which have to get clumsily spliced in to achieve an explanatory fudge. I’ve given up hope (!) of finding one that doesn’t have me throwing it in the trash.

      1. Chauncey Gardiner

        A little off-topic, but you might try a collection of short stories by Rick Bass. Just a suggestion.

        1. Clive

          Thanks Chauncey — I’ve wasted so much time (and money!) trying to find something decent to read. The TV is now so annoying, to the point of unwatchability, I’ve given up apart from a couple of shows. BBC Radio 4 is down to a similarly small handful of programming that I actually enjoy. And I love to read, I don’t like not having a book on the go, but do prefer modern rather than classical literature when it comes to fiction. So anything by way of recommendations from the likeminded folk in the cheap seats down here is like manna from heaven.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            If you haven’t read it already, the better (not influences by Tolkein and post the 1950s-1960s SF) that is not obsessed with science and gadgetry might appeal to you. They use other worlds as frameworks to put humans or human-like creatures in social situations different than ours and play out the behaviors.

            Many readers have said they regard Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed as one of the ten most important books every written about politics. Her The Left Hand of Darkness is also a classic. The space opera A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge is a great book. Readers probably have suggestions outside warhorses like these.

            1. Synoia

              Yes, the characters on Tolkien have the flexibility to wander off without notice, and seem to only eat once every few chapters.

              I’d recommend Cyril Kornbluth’s The Syndic as a good description of our current utopia. Prescient almost.

              I do not read Science Fiction any more. I do not have the correct optimistic view of the future I once had.

              I share Clive’s irritation? dislike? of the contrived scenarios which do not account for having to work (including the commute) 11 to 15 hours a day.

              I’d point out that fiction in the past generally revolved around the class formerly known as “The Idle Rich.”

              I suggest for fun read “Diary of a Country Parson” by Woodforde. Pay particular attention to his description of meals.

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                I think your view of SF is dated. Quite a lot of it is dystopian. Some of it manages to make it fun or at least palatable (Neal Stephenson). William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition is an acute piece about today (when it was published, about a dozen years ago).

                1. Oregoncharles

                  It always was pretty dystopian. Remember “A Boy and His Dog?” Hell, the Dune series is pretty dystopian, too.

                  Of course, that went side by side with heroic visions of future technology. But like Synoia, I’ve read very little of it for years.

                  There is a very political SF writer I’d recommend, though: Ken McLeod, especially the Fall Revolution series, his first. To quote Wikipedia: “His science fiction novels often explore socialist, communist, and anarchist political ideas, most particularly the variants of Trotskyism and anarcho-capitalism or extreme economic libertarianism.” Doesn’t quite do him justice: the ideas go off like fireworks.

                  1. Yves Smith Post author

                    Yes, I was a big Harlan Ellison fan. Read all of the Dangerous Visions anthologies that he edited too when they came out, and even his LA Freep media criticism columns. And Philip K. Dick often takes a strong constitution but he was also erratic, veered from brilliant to clever but in too much haste to flesh out his high concept fully enough.

                    But have you read his Valis? If you haven’t, I won’t clue you in. Not what you’d expect and it’s remarkable.

                    I think SF is a sleeper as a genre. It’s unabashedly popular literature but there is good stuff in there, well crafted on many levels: plot, character, style. But I’ve been too busy to know what the standouts written in the last 30 or so years are vexcept for a few that have come across my radar.

                2. Richard

                  Octavia Butler’s Earthseed books are wonderful dystopian fiction. Very strong class presence.

      2. jsn

        I think it was Shaw who said, “cynicism is a word frequently used to describe accurate perception by people who don’t have it.”

      3. Dandelion

        Very few American writers deal with class reality. I recommend “American Rust,” by Philip Meyer, “The Beans of Egypt, Maine,” by Carolyn Chute, and, for the office workers, “And Then We Came To The End,” by Joshua Ferris.

        1. jrs

          i can just imagine reading these and wanting to kill myself though … entertainment that provides no escape from reality – ouch.

          1. wendys

            I concur. I like to read books written for escape, and general silliness. The Harry Potter books are funny. Rick Riordan and the Percy Jackson books are funny and have a lot of references to ancient Greek and Roman myths (I was disappointed in the movies). For extreme silliness try Two Necromancers, a Bureaucrat and an Elf. The real world and adult books are too depressing.

            1. witters

              Me, I’m depressed by Harry Potter books, just as I am by James Patterson etc. etc. “What,” I think, “am I doing in this world of literary and emotional and intellectual cliche?”

      4. jrs

        is it a love affair? where are the fights about money if sharing finances, and even worries about money that cause pain to the relationship even if not?

      5. Rosairo

        I don’t know if you have already heard of it but look into The Stockdale Paradox if not.

  5. Heraclitus

    It’s ironic that discrimination against both blacks and poor whites was much more overt back in the day. In our Southern cotton mill towns, ‘lint head’ was a worse deprecation than the n-word (which is not to say that blacks were not at the bottom of the totem pole). Nevertheless, people who grew up working in the cotton mills did, in many cases, move to better lives. They often owned their own homes, and the paternalistic mill owners actually provided recreation facilities, scholarships, and supplemented the pay of local teachers. One woman, who, like many of the workers, came from the mountains to the foothills to work in the mill, said: ‘I never saw running water or a toilet until I started working in the mill.’

  6. Blurtman

    These types of studies suffer from a certain amount of GIGO. To base the definition of a group upon European colonization is absurd. There are “Hispanics” of all races. Vanna White is Hispanic. In this day of genomic analysis, a credible study should include at least three determinants of race/ethnicity: self-identification, third-party identification and genomic analysis.

    1. ambrit

      Race and ethnicity are good for only so far in modern sociological analyses. Call me what you will but I see “class” as independent of either. Any version of “True Believer” Meritocracy would see this clearly and act accordingly. Of course, there is no such thing as a “true” version of anything. The Meritocracy we suffer under today is just another ‘mongrelized’ shibboleth.
      “Self identification” should also be broken down into “aspirational” self identification and “cold hard desperational” self realization. The “meet me in St Louis” personal future vision serves the same purpose as “Bread and Circuses” did for the Roman Empires’ elites. Well, now, the “Bread” part of that scheme is being short-sightedly whittled away by the Powers. No grand conspiracy is needed to do any of this. Plain old greed and incompetence are all that is required for an adequate explanation.

    2. tony

      ‘Asian’ is even worse. Pakistanis, Japanese and Indonesians have almost nothing in common apart from arbitrary definition of what is a continent.

      That being said, neuroticism varies between groups, and it is also a pretty stable variable across a human life. Optimistic people are optimistic in even in adverse circumstances.

    3. Enquiring Mind

      Your mention of Vanna White made me think about when we will all have to buy a vowel instead of using it for free, soon followed by all those consonants. No doubt, there is someone, somewhere, working on monetization of language. Über could even charge extra for the umlaut. /s

  7. GlassHammer

    “The technological displacement of low-skilled jobs is here to stay – and is an important issue for many countries, well beyond the US. Addressing this issue will require longer-term changes, such as education and incentives that provide the young in economic desserts the tools to move to where the new jobs are. ”

    Skill development (education) is not a problem/priority when capital has access to a global workforce and ever cheaper labor. You can keep your production process rudimentary and find a workforce willing to work for a pittance. If you happen to need a worker with skills/education you can select a qualified one from any nation on the planet.

    Has it dawned on anyone that “access to the global-workforce” is one of the primary reasons that the U.S. has some of the worst schools in the world but has some of the best universities?

    1. Anonim222

      Best universities. Even that is false now. Your average graduate has a similar level than a high-school student from Asia or Europe. I have taken engineering at university and some mates who when to the US to study as a part of exchange programs said that it was just a joke…

      It turns out that letting education become another profit center does not produce the best outcomes. But hey no wonder, the leitmotiv of predatory capitalism: the worst possible product at the highest possible price has also been applied to your universities.

      Your elites have devastated your country, sold its industrial base, stolen its infraestructures and corroded everything. It’s just a matter of time you lose what remains of your global leadership.

  8. Ned

    The “scenes can only be shot in a large rooms, or sets with no back walls creating false illusions of how wage earners live” comment is incredibly astute. Americans watch thousands of hours of TV and movies and subconsciously must compare their living situation to what’s portrayed therein.

    Besides all mentioned, I would like to add one more never mentioned item; as a former resident of San Francisco, the most phony and enraging thing is that people in movies and TV always get a parking place in front of their destination.

    The reality is that drivers in urban areas waste ten, twenty or more minutes searching for legal parking after a long tiring day at work, are raped financially by parking meters, tickets and street sweeping zones.

    Yes, I moved to the suburbs. The availability of unlimited safe parking was like regaining vision that I never knew I missed until I could see again.

    1. SerenityNow

      Parking is not a right-it is street space usually owned (and often freely given) by a municipality. That municipalities wish to manage the use of their space property should surprise no one. No one has the “right” to drive a motor vehicle and be able to temporarily store it wherever they want at little or no cost! The real travesty is that we have spent decades creating a built environment where for many, cars are the ONLY way to get around.

      It didn’t have to be that way. If you lived in a place where you had to pay the actual cost of motor vehicle operation, but we’re also able to easily live without one, you’d never worry about parking again.

      1. Ned

        The Green Planner flashes his lantern of truth to light the way….
        IF effective mass transit were available everywhere, your argument would hold more water. You work the only job you can find and transit is not an option. What are you supposed to do? Starve so that some Tesla or Range Rover driver can get the space that you so graciously left for them?

        Let me carry–what I believe is your point of view—over to other things:
        Housing and food is not a right either. If people had to pay the true cost of living in structures and raping the earth to eat, the more enlightened of them would realize that it would be better to commit suicide.

        1. jrs

          the basic problem seems apartments etc. designed without parking spaces, but if they are very old buildings dating back to when the automobile was just coming out then that’s the way it was (and of course some of san fran is quite old). Some mid century apartments also seem to have been stupidly designed this way for no particular reason it seems (just stupid).

          Yes municipalities should go all in for public transit, and we as citizens should push them too. Build really really good public transit in all major cities (ok it’s never going to be a panacea for rural people, but the big cities, it is possible). But individuals make the choices they do in the city spaces we actually have now.

        2. SerenityNow

          Mass transit is not the only alternative to a car-centered built environment–I never called for mass transit anyway. I am instead suggesting we could have built our areas of habitation so that cars are not the most convenient (most heavily subsidized) travel mode. Driving is cheap and convenient because we’ve made a lot of decisions to keep it that way. And if you don’t think it’s cheap, you might be missing how expensive it is in other places.

          You’re right that we don’t pay the true cost of a lot of things, and if we did, all aspects of modern life would be much more inconvenient. But the degree to which we subsidize a lifestyle based on automotive accessibility is especially noxious, and disproportionately affects the disenfranchised. Yes, there’s not much we can do about it now. But people believing they have a right to store their large machines on public property (for free) for any length of time doesn’t help.

          1. schultzzz

            The san fran parking problem is special because that city has RIDICULOUSLY wide sidewalks – like 12 feet wide, even on residential blocks where there’s not more than 1 or 2 people using it at any given time. Now, we just need to hire out of work super-heroes to haul everyone’s cars on the sidewalk and Tetris them into the available space.

      1. schultzzz

        I agree! To live in a city, lose your dogs.
        All the dogs.
        Dogs need space and neighbors need quiet.
        Of course, what’s ‘obvious’ to a [car-free dog-owner] is different than what’s obvious to a [dog-free car-owner] !

  9. Alejandro

    The possibilities of what could be are crafted in the imagination, and the wretchedness of ‘what-is’ can be a powerful source of motivation. However, captured imaginations, the target of TINA, where this crafting is stifled and semiotics are displaced with a preference to conjure the mystical through religiose pious fiction, noble lies, magnificent myths etc., and more recently through pseudo-science with “magi-matical” preciseness, disguising class dogma behind an aura of {irrefutable} scientific ‘credibility’, has a long history…hopium without wherewithal seems the road to frustration for the have-nots, yet the toll-gates always seem occupied by the haves.

    Then there’s gestation v. microwavable expectations , i.e., sowing and reaping v. reaping without sowing with amazon 2day delivery…insidious unilateral power of dependency.

  10. rps

    “The rugged face of society, checkered with the extremes of affluence and want, proves that some extraordinary violence has been committed upon it, and calls on justice for redress. The great mass of the poor in all countries are become an hereditary race, and it is next to impossible for them to get out of that state of themselves. It ought also to be observed that this mass increases in all countries that are called civilized. More persons fall annually into it than get out of it.” Thomas Paine. Agrarian Justice. 1795

    1. PrairieRose

      Thank you for these links, edmondo. The writer speaks important, boots-on-the-ground truths.

  11. WobblyTelomeres

    Yves: I wonder about the emphasis on hope

    Hope is cheap. Real solutions aren’t.

    ambrit: No grand conspiracy is needed to do any of this. Plain old greed and incompetence are all that is required for an adequate explanation.

    There it is.

      1. ambrit

        I remember the old Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers poster saying: “Dope can get you through times of no money better than money can get you through times of no dope.”

  12. fco

    Moving to the US from a “third world country” riddled with graft and corruption, it was amazing to see Americans complain so much when they had it so good. That was 45 years ago.

    Now, it looks like the US is turning into the country I came from.

    Back home ( and yes, it seems I still think of it as home, go figure) religion and its offer of salvation and hope, not to mention the acceptance of your lot in life, was the opiate of the poor. Here in the US, real opioids are readily accessible to those who have lost hope.

    What’s interesting is that now the jobs have moved over to my country of origin, the middle class has quite improved, whereas in the US, where people always seemed to have it easy, are now the ones that are in desperation.

    Who or what to blame…off the top of my head, Americans were prone to think they were the center of the world, that they were number one. We, too, in other countries were made to think that. Complacency kills. So does trust in elected officials who cater to multinational corporations and financial behemoths.

  13. William Neil

    Here is a brief but powerful paper on the correlations between “Deaths of Despair” – the ills of rural Red State America – and voting support for Trump, by counties:

    The very strange thing about the American economy today is that a good portion of the top 20% of the income distribution live in the realm of the two “happy” indicators: the low unemployment rate and low inflation, which is not the reality that 60-70% of the nation is feeling, as expressed both in the Sanders campaign and the election of Trump.

    In reality, the upper 20% of the nation are living in, still, the “roaring 1990’s” of the Clinton Dreams, while many are experiencing 1929-1932 despair, even if the objective conditions are not as horrific.

    If the nation could only cross the Rubicon of intervention into Neoliberal Labor Markets, via a WPA and CCC when the whole economy collapsed, it would help meet those needing work half-way…but it won’t/can’t. The Neoliberal rigidity on what government can and can’t do in labor markets is the obstacle, intellectual and practical. That helps explain why we can’t get to FDR’s Second Bill of Rights from 1944 and “the Right to a Job” or MMT’s job guarantee program (as advocated by L. Randall Wray)…despite so much of the nation’s needed work not being addressed: social, structural and environmental.

    These tensions have played out inside the Democratic Party. The Clinton’s think tank, the Center for American Progress, has played two notes. In December of 2015 they put out a long policy paper touting Apprenticeship Programs to fill the business cry for the “jobs-skills gap,” and it was followed by a number of shorter follow-up policy pieces pushing this direction. Then came the “Ideas” Conference of May 16th, 2017, where they proposed a Marshall Plan-WPA inspired targeted jobs guarantee program for a portion of those needed work, those without a college degree. It didn’t take, as the conference speeches an panels on that day clearly showed, and this is how I interpret Senator Schumer’s “Better Deal” Op-Ed in the New York Times on July 24th. Apprenticeship programs have won out, and industry is happy to have the public pick up as much of the cost as they can manage to shift.

    I don’t think this meets the need I see presented in today’s posting by Carol Graham, or the one I linked to by Professor Shannon Monnat from Penn State. Hardly.

  14. roxan

    I come from one of those desolate towns people talk about so much these days. My mother always said the steel mill was a good company because they didn’t pay in scrip, and they built decent houses, paved streets, provided the utilities and so on. Eventually, they even built a community center and library. At Christmas, they put on a parade.

    That is all gone. The steel mills and mine are not only closed, the mill has mostly been torn down. When I had to go back to care for my mother in 2004 I was shocked–downtown had always been crowded with traffic. Now, I could have slept in Main Street with no danger of being run over. All the stores were empty, or had turned into ‘coffee shops’ i.e. gambling dens. Even our dignified old bank building was now a coffee shop! At first I thought the coffee fad had reached us, and remarked on that to a neighbor I saw coming out of one. She laughed and said, “I work in there. We just pour whiskey, that’s all. It’s one-armed bandits, no fit place for women.”

    I could not buy the most basic things, such as getting a lock installed and a key made, glass for the windows, lumber, or even cement. The house was falling down but I couldn’t buy what I needed. We lived in a nice suburban area, but most of the street was abandoned. Next door, I saw a guy who looked like Cletus (in the Simpsons) building an actual camp fire in the front yard! I was going to ask him to clean up the rat infested garbage pile in the driveway, but decided it was best to avoid him.

    No one had work. One relative’s teenage boy was loading trucks at night for sub-minimum wage and happy to have that. His mother, Linda, was subsisting on her mother’s social security. The old lady had a stroke in middle-age, could not move and screamed constantly. She had to be lifted from bed to chair and diapered. Linda had done that since the 1980s, and now had heart trouble herself. She had no earning skills and was trying to hang onto the house. If she put her mother in a home, they would all have been out in the gutter.

    Even as an RN, I could only find a few $10 hr jobs, not enough to live on considering the long commute. I had to go back to the East Coast, and send money home to hire aides. I met a lot of absolutely desperate people. One lady, who offered to help with Mom, was taking care of her uncle and father, who both had dementia. My mother was violent, listened to nothing and was difficult to manage. Aides quit as fast as I hired them but I was trying to hang onto our family home which would be lost if I put her in a nursing home.

    I did not see anyone sitting around drunk or stoned, and never saw that when I grew up either. I think all those tales about violent, drunken hillbillies are just that–tall tales. Most of the young people I met were going into the service. I found them to be good steady people who did what I asked and felt bad I couldn’t pay them more. They were having a very hard time, as there were no jobs one could drive to whatsoever. It is the same throughout the entire Ohio Valley. A wasteland.

    The military seems to provide a decent solution but young people shouldn’t have to risk dying in order to get an education. My suggestion would be something like the old CCC. Learning skills is not enough. People need to get away from the whole area and learn how to live in ‘the world’ as Appalachians refer to the larger society. I had more than one young person come up to me and exclaim, “I heard you was out in the WORLD. What’s it like?”

    1. William Neil

      Thanks Roxan. I live in a county in Western Maryland which is formally part of the legal jurisdiction of the Appalachian Regional Commission, set up by Congress to bring the 13 state area up to “modern” standards of infrastructure, education and I suppose, “the way the rest of us live.” I think the funding averages about $13 million per year per state, hardly making a dent; it does offer loans for creative types with business ideas, including some green ones. And I think the Trump Admin. zeroed out the funding, if not out right reached for the organization’s abolition, in their current budget proposals.

      But you are right, something much more powerful in terms of outreach and structure is necessary. A new CCC and WPA, yes, but much harder to achieve today, and the mission more complex than the originals, which served mainly all young unemployed men. Today it will be multi-racial, gendered and aged…I don’t know whether it is good to design it for the ARC needs to take the citizens out of the region…

      I think the structure and cultural imperatives of work, including the psychological benefits, are the way to go rather than the “guaranteed” annual income so fashionable among parts of the left, and even with some Libertarians like Charles Murray.

      For most of the work designs I’ve been thinking of, additional training will be necessary, it’s going to take more than a week of orientation, and flexibility will be crucial. I try to keep the idea alive, difficult for the reasons I put forth in first comment above, to be ready with at least some prototype, pioneer examples, to be ready for the next great economic crisis. But, of course, the crisis is already here in this region (and the urban ghettos for how long now…half-a-century or more…)…

      1. roxan

        People need self-respect, and that comes from feeling competent. If you feel you can’t do anything worthwhile and never will, pretty soon you don’t see any point in living.

        Yes, a modern WPA or CCC of some sort, would certainly be different. I doubt there is any funding, too. Has anyone ever had the idea of holding town halls to find out what people in these areas think would work?

        As for the Democrats, I remember when Kerry came to campaign in 2004. He went to the town across the river, and hardly got out of his stretch limo. I had planned to go see him, but they locked down both towns, and closed the bridge across the Ohio. I saw him on TV, making a speech to what appeared to be a cheering crowd. Later, I read in the paper they had paid a few old union guys to wave signs. He clearly had no interest in us. I was disgusted, remembering how JFK came to our town and and discovered–guess what? Appalachian poverty!

        1. William Neil

          Yes roxan, I’ve been trying to get some momentum going for a CCC in our region because it has a strong environmental ethic, working very hard to successfully ban fracking. Trying for three years now.

          I must have done a half-dozen postings at the Daily Kos on the topic, but there is just a blank when it comes to alternative thinking about the economy, except for the decentralizing, self-sufficiency, farm to table greens.

          The opposition to Trump met to plan with a good turnout in Cumberland in early February, and there were three or four major directions apparent. But by early April, only the feminist caucus was still going, and they’re decidedly not interested in the political economy.

          Some of the small green businesses who supplied the leadership for the anti-fracking campaign have struck me as being threatened by a program that might pay $15.00 per hour plus benefits – which a CCC/WPA should do…because they are competing for cheap labor as well, and find that threatening. They’ll never say that openly, but the local organic farmers rely on a program called WWOOF, which is like a hostel arrangement without wages; the young nomads come and work on the organic farms, learn something, get room and board, but no wages. Here at Is this whole movement a serious hobby or a new economy in the making? It is troubled by all the ancient problems of small scale agriculture: turning a profit and paying wages without turning the workers into a scorned minority, like the migrants.

          I think a green CCC with locally designed projects to help farmers with some of their other traditional problems – manure storage and management, fencing to keep livestock out of streams, and so forth, plus all sorts of needed restoration projects (wetlands, contiguous forests, pulling invasives, fencing large areas and culling deer to restore native vegetation…) which also should be designed for what they plant and where, multiple purposes, to combat global warming, could supply a lot of purpose to countless lives.

          I’m continually amazed at the resistance; cultural, economic, ideologically, and sad to say, in too many cases, traditional business opposition to a “better deal” for labor, green causes or not. Plus the great American tradition of stigmatizing those who have served time or had addictions, who need the most help, and need purpose in their lives.

          I don’t know if we’ll get there without a major collapse that forces the issue, forces eveyone to face the truth that the private sector can’t meet our human needs as currently constituted.

          My Congressman, John Delaney, got a written outline from me in a small meeting with him and just one staffer: he was stony faced about it and has never shown any interest. If you know about his plans for “infrastructure” – the terms on which he proposes to bring all that idle American “capital” home, you’ll know why.

          I’ve also done presentations in front of the city of Cumberland’s Mayor and Council: it’s a city in a county with 5,000 derelict structures: collapsing, abandoned, vacant. Lot’s of work to handle them and turn some into affordable housing…perfect match…some sympathy at the council, but they also looked like I was proposing a mission to Neptune. Can’t get more basic about the needs in this situation…this is a problem in all the old de-industrialized cities, as well as throughout Red rural America…as you so dramatically showed us.

          Until I hear better proposals, I don’t intend to stop pushing it. I also see this as a way to get some more “democracy” into economics, proposing, planning, refining the work that needs to be done…another route that at times seems more logical, and ought to be easier, than democratizing the workplace at Target or Home Depot – or Walmart.

          I’m sure that if that national, state and local conservation groups got behind this, they could come up with, easily, enough compelling projects to keep everyone at full employment for decades. I’ve proposed a few myself. Enough for now.

    2. Clive

      If nothing else, your comment gives me hope that there’s still such a thing as human decency — which you exhibit.

      My grandmother lived to be 101 years old and, unlike your mother, enjoyed good health or, perhaps better put not bad health considering her great age. She still lived in the town she was born in and was one of those sorts who never left where they grew up. But my father, even in the late 1970’s, read the writing on the wall and moved us around (even becoming expats) before settling in the south / south east (of England).

      It’s a little shameful — but honest — to say that I loathed visits. I made excuses and did the minimum I could get away with. My Dad was the same. Although my grandmother enjoyed the last vestiges of the social safety net we still cling on to here (local county provided sheltered accommodation which had a warden and was fully accessible for someone who might not be that mobile, social workers visiting every couple of weeks, visiting nurses, a doctor who did house calls and care workers twice a day to help with personal care and nutrition) and we didn’t need to concern ourselves with that side of her situation, when we visited, we felt like fish out of water.

      The metropolitan sophistication and, yes, affluence, of London and the southeast made the grimness, poverty and ingrained loss of hope (there’s that word again) depressing to be around. Our self awareness of our newfound snobby elitism made our discomfort even worse. It was no use, or at least not honest and too much cognitive dissonance, to try to pretend that we didn’t find the small town mentality hard to take.

      But then living with either no, or only poor quality jobs at minimum wage (the town is an subscale inland port, literally the last place you come to at the end of the freeway and after that it is more-or-less you fall into the North Sea) — well, escaping is nigh on impossible with our dismally low social mobility. And the town can forget about government funded regeneration or benefitting from an industrial policy.

      The short version was (both my dad and I tacitly and unspokenly concluded) that it was easier — for us, being selfish — to stay away. So I can fully understand the selflessness and sense of duty you’ve shown. It makes you a better person than I am.

      Of course, none of us should have to make these unpalatable choices. There shouldn’t be anywhere in our countries where we feel simultaneously alienated and alienating.

    3. Eclair

      Roxan, your narrative of the place where you grew up is harrowing. Thank you for bearing witness.

  15. Sue


    I like how you write. This is a very despairing present and outlook

    “Most of the young people I met were going into the service..The military seems to provide a decent solution but young people shouldn’t have to risk dying in order to get an education”
    A solution from no other choice. Some of the youngsters will understandably make a virtue out of necessity & claim patriotic duty as their calling. The avenues to patriotism & what patriotism is for every patriot are various. Patriotism is another big word.

    1. Synoia

      The military seems to provide a decent solution but young people shouldn’t have to risk dying in order to get an education

      Join the Air Force. Only Officers get shot at.

          1. Sue

            I agree with you. Mine was a tongue-in-cheek comment which I now regret because the drones have killed many lives. Thank you.

    2. makedoanmend

      Strumpet City (both a book and TV series) is a story about how the working class of Dublin, Ireland go on strike for better pay and working conditions. The strike is broken and the Irish story hero is last seen in a British military uniform sailing away from his home and wife to fight for a foreign government in some foreign land. (Although fictionalised, this story is a dramatisation of actual historical events.)

      The story was set at the turn of new 20th century. I suppose not all that much has changed at the turn of the new 21st century.

      The monied want more and then the poor by necessity set off to fight the impoverished of foreign lands in the name of …

    3. Lyle

      Actually joining the military but not by choice (most were drafted) was the big thing that changed at least the men in the Greatest generation, (but patriotism was far stronger in WWII) the men did get advantages when they came home. Plus interestingly just like today with the modern GI bill 4 years of service can get one a college degree with very small student loans (and could for GIs after WWII).

  16. Sound of the Suburbs

    Where did it all go wrong?

    The populists, Trump and Brexit are all symptoms of the same underlying problem.

    Neo-liberalism was seen as a one size fits all model for the world.

    When the neo-liberal model worked everyone was fairly happy with it before 2008.

    Then it stopped working and no one seems to know how to get it working like it used to before.

    The underlying economics, neoclassical economics, doesn’t look at private debt in the economy and so no one was really aware the whole thing was running on easy credit.

    The US economists that developed these ideas were missing certain critical information.

    Monetary theory has been regressing for one hundred years:

    “A lost century in economics: Three theories of banking and the conclusive evidence” Richard A. Werner

    It has never been accurate in their life times and has only ever known by a few.

    Milton Freidman started with “fractional reserve theory” and then moved to “financial intermediation theory”. His early monetarism didn’t work because the “fractional reserve theory” was flawed. “Financial intermediation theory” is even worse but its problems remained hidden until 2008.

    The US history of capitalism missed problems in the Old World.

    The US was a new country where lots of land remained unclaimed. In the Old World the landed Aristocracy were constantly pushing up wage costs with their rentier ways. The rents of the Aristocracy had to be paid by business in wages reducing their profits.

    The Classical Economists of the 19th Century were only too aware of the two sides of capitalism, the productive side where wealth creation takes place and the parasitic side where wealth extraction takes place.

    It all disappears in very early neoclassical economics.

    The distinction between “earned” income (wealth creation) and “unearned” income (wealth extraction) disappears and the once separate areas of “capital” and “land” are conflated.

    The problems with rentier activity in the economy are hidden in economics.

    These things disappeared so long ago everyone forgot about them, but a free trade world required a low cost of living to pay internationally competitive wages.

    The repeal of the Corn Laws to usher in the era of Laissez-Faire.

    The landed aristocracy wanted high corn prices to get more land rent.

    The businessmen wanted lower corn prices, to lower the cost of living, for lower, internationally competitive wages.

    The conflict between rentier and business interests with free trade.

  17. Cat Burglar

    I flag the idea “economic desserts [sic}” in the second to last paragraph. A region with no work, nowhere to buy or sell anything, and no assets of significant value? I wonder how you could map it, and how much of the area of the nation would fall into that category.

    I’ve worked in one, a Central Oregon county that almost had to close its road department because of the lack of tax revenue. Tree cutting and mill work disappeared decades ago. Ranching is the core of the economy, but that is less labor-intensive than ever, and dealers of equipment and materials are all in other counties. Starting a family ranch is impossible if you’re not already a multimillionaire. For many years the tiny Chevrolet dealer was the largest employer in the county.

    Economic desert is an apt descriptor for places like that. The kids have been leaving for generations already — the author of the article suggests education and training programs that will make it easier for them to leave. No other suggestion. No ideas for regional economic development, for example.

  18. jerry

    Speaking of lack of hope, it occurs to me that the only way a Bernie/progressive agenda would possibly be adopted by the DNC is if the republicans were doing ok or good from a legislative and presidential standpoint, because then this puts the pressure on the Dems to put forth something that works and change their ways if they want to win back power.

    However, since we are witnessing a truly impressive trainwreck and lack of competence on the part of the right, both within the house adopting legislation and within the presidency itself that is doing god knows what on any given day, all the Dems have to do is sit back and watch, and wait for their turn at the booth. As there are only two options in this wonderful system of ours, the American citizens have nowhere else to go come 2018 and 2020.. the slogan “at least we’re not them” will be enough – with some “progressive” tidbits thrown in for good measure a la Schumers’ latest proposal.

  19. ckimball

    I had to make myself read this. My mind diverted to word hope and what makes it become an experience. Just to add a little to it.
    I resented Obama for selling hope while he was doing it. It seemed a manufactured hope as opposed
    to organic hope (such as hope arises in response to something that occurs that does not seem possible).I believe that for most black people the existence of Barack Obama’s candidacy and then his victory generated a huge quota of hope. It was palpable to many of us and elicited some unsolicited hope in us too.
    I believe this emotional state trumped and trumps the reasons listed in this article. The above was
    transformative and perhaps many black people may feel more entitled to express their anger now.
    Another example of hope arising from something that occurred that does not seem possible in the short term is same sex marriage. Both of these segments of our population have been injected with hope
    unlike the “poor” category which have been inflicted both emotionally and physically with loss and
    disillusionment. The erosion of the public domain is an attack on the ideals and property of the working people of this country.

  20. c_heale

    “Poor blacks are also half as likely to experience stress – a significant marker of ill-being – on a daily basis as are poor whites, while poor Hispanics are about two-thirds as likely.”

    I’m not sure this piece of research is correct. I haven’t checked the reference, but I’m sure I read another piece of research a while back that said that suffering from racism causes a great deal of stress and psychological problems. The whole article appears to be a lot of waffle in my opinion. For example how can you possibly define hope. I once read that if you read a piece of research and you can’t think of a way that an experiment can be done to show the results, then the research is invalid. I can’t think of any experiment that can measure such an abstract concept as hope (the concept of hope is far more abstract than anger, for example).

  21. DSP

    For some reason I can no longer reply to the relevant comment.This is an addition to “jane @ 7-03”.
    One of the most interesting things that has happened over my lifetime has been the almost complete disappearance of the past for the younger and the modern age.The element that I’m referring to is older proverbs and aphorisms,in this case “Hope makes a good breakfast but a poor supper”.
    I’ve also been told that each of the “Friends” would have to be earning $130,000 each to live their lifestyle and they wouldn’t be loafing about on the sofa doing it.
    Does anybody in America earn 130K rather than more or less?

  22. lyle

    Ok lets take Lincoln for an example, he started out dirt poor when young, but of course back then land was cheap and mostly for the taking. Now Lincold thought he could do better and of course did. But was called a hayseed by the elites in the east while in office, but Booth turned him into a saint. Is it perhaps a consequence of the closing of the frontier that we now see with a 100 year time delay.
    Of course the time when folks compare as the good old days could also be a problem. In the 1950s the US had the only undamaged economy in the developed world Europe and Japan were rebuilding their economise almost from scratch. Would the 1920s or the 1900s or the 1880s be better comparison times, (avoiding the 1893 depression and WWI times)

  23. Oregoncharles

    ” Poor minorities – and blacks in particular – are much more hopeful than poor whites, while urban places are more hopeful than are rural ones, as are places with higher levels of diversity.”

    This is because people respond most strongly to CHANGE, and its rate. Whites, for the most part, are not used to being downtrodden; for them, it’s a big change, and gets their attention. Minorities, on the other hand, can have no illusions; under the circumstances, maintaining hope is a survival skill they’ve had reason to develop. And for them, there is no great change; there may even be improvement, especially in relation to the poor whites they compare themselves to.

    By way of giving people credit, I think they respond primarily, not to what they see on TV, let alone the news, but to their own experience and their neighbors’. As a result, they really weren’t fooled by the statistics being peddled during the “recovery.”

  24. D

    I wonder if the racial stress level differences might, in part, have to do with how whites generally measure ones value by ones financial ‘success’ – even white majority churches seem to promote this measure of value – where blacks and Hispanics are fully aware that the game is rigged and are far more gentle on each other in that regard then whites are; also far less prone to faulting themselves for something they have no power over.

    Further, I’m not in agreement with the many pieces that have come out lately attributing a lack of education to the predominance of despairing whites. I think this currently favored ‘meme’ is painful and punitive to both those who don’t have higher degrees, and those who do. In general, there are some very educated people in professions which don’t pay a lot who are increasingly unable to afford housing. There are many bright, self educated people with no degrees and from what I’ve noticed many of those with no higher degrees have far more common sense and empathy. I remember a time when many did well for themselves without college degrees in professions which now insist on college degrees.

    I do have a degree and had a well paying licensed profession (which is stunningly corrupted) and lost my shirt in large part due to my age (though well under retirement age) and refusal to do the wrong thing over the years along with a lack of laws regarding refusing to hire those who are unemployed. After a long stretch of unemployment and two family emergencies, I ended up uninsured with cancer, and now can’t go back to work even if I wanted to. One thing I’m quite lucky for is the only good landlord I’ve ever had, as the rents around me have risen close to 200% or more in the last 12 years, but if anything happens to my landlord, I’m sunk.

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